Colin McQuistan

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I am the Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction senior adviser at Practical Action working in the Policy and Practice team. I am responsible for our global development work ensuring that we are not only adapting to the challenge of climate change and reducing risk, but that this is done in a way that builds the resilience of current and future populations. Practical Action work in five regions with a focus on the role of technology in reducing poverty, specifically the concept of technology justice how to ensure the design, development and mobilisation of technology is responding to the key development challenges.Before I joined Practical Action I was the Senior Adviser, Agriculture and Climate Change at Oxfam GB. I have over 30 years professional experience in the UK and overseas, and spent 20 years living and working in South East Asia working on a variety of development projects with local NGO’s, Governments and International agencies, including 6 years with WWF Greater Mekong as regional policy advisor. This provided direct field experience exploring community development and conservation through innovative approaches to sustainable development. Areas of special interest include systems approaches to development, sustainability, the challenge of Climate Change and building resilience in development.I am the chair of the U.K. Interagency Resilience Learning group coordinated by DFID and BOND made up of over 100 representatives of civil society, academia and the private sector exploring the challenge of resilience in development. I am also a member of the Rockefeller Community of Practice on measuring resilience a global network exploring the challenge of resilience measurement and a technical mentor to the Waterwindow the flood specific component of the Rockefeller global resilience partnership.

Recommended reading: http://www.practicalaction.org

Posts by Colin

  • Financial capital and development, where’s the problem?

    February 2nd, 2018

    When Fritz Schumacher wrote “Small is Beautiful” he used the book to highlight two key challenges. The first that traditional development wasn’t working, he highlighted that it was failing to overcome pervasive and underlying challenges and second, that the economic assumptions guiding this development were flawed. He argued eloquently for a new approach to development, an economic development model in which finite resources were recognised and that the aim wasn’t capital accumulation but human wellbeing. Development in which people not money mattered.

    For the last five years, Practical Action have been working with Zurich insurance foundation on a global flood alliance programme. One of the aims of this programme has been an attempt to measure flood resilience. The degree to which flood resilience can be enhanced at the community level, through wise development choices, choices that enhance flood resilience, that reverse vulnerabilities and reduce risk. These efforts to measure community flood resilience are built upon the sustainable livelihoods framework, and outline an approach to resilience measurement that takes a holistic view across the five development capitals (Figure 1). The framework measures the contribution of components, or resilience sources from each of the five capitals and measures how they perform to either forewarn, mitigate or allow communities to live and thrive in spite of the flood event.

    Sustainable Livelihood Framework (DFID 2001)

    One of the questions we are hoping to answer is what is the role of financial capital? Or more importantly in the rush to generate wealth as the solution to poverty, how critical is capital formation to resilience building? In the context of the 5-capitals approach we are finding that, insurance schemes, microcredit and inadequately financed cash transfer programmes in general do not allow for financial capital formation – at best they enable consumption smoothing. So we want to explore sustainable capital formation, and explore this at multiple levels from the community up to national governments? If by using the tool we can identify measures to build flood resilience, this may allow enough people to be generating profits that allows a capital to accumulate. Is this capital accumulation sufficient to be used to pool risk? To create a proper capital buffer will be very hard, indeed methods currently being trailed in the development community use some form of micro-credit or similar process to enhance local capital accumulation. Preliminary results indicate that this may not be a good way of promoting capital formation.

    Converting the risk into an economic value and then paying this amount into a common pool thereby attempting to share the risk evenly among a large number of people.

    A recent and sobering study of Indian agricultural insurance schemes indicates they were ineffective from a financial perspective. It was found that regardless of their dubious impacts on the formation of the other capitals, they are not even useful for financial capital formation. The job of social insurance must be to smooth consumption shocks enough to allow capital formation, not to extract so much surplus that no new capital formation is possible. Perhaps the real problems are around distribution and redistribution?  Economics as if people mattered, this and other challenges await us as we try to explore the links between wealth creation and development. What we do know is that we need to be looking outside the box and exploring innovative options, not just rolling out business as usual, failed solutions.

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  • Flood Resilience Program extended for five more years

    January 16th, 2018

     

    Practical Action and partners will continue to work to develop solutions for community flood resilience and provide robust evidence for investment in pre-event resilience-building under a new five-year grant from Zurich.

    In July 2013 Practical Action signed a memorandum of understanding with the Z Zurich Foundation for a five-year programme aimed at building the flood resilience of vulnerable communities in Nepal and Peru as part of a multi-sectoral Alliance of partners. In December 2017, we received the excellent new that Zurich Insurance Company and the Z Zurich Foundation had agreed to a second five year phase, starting in July 2018.

    One of the significant achievements of the first phase was the development and piloting of a flood resilience measurement framework and tool. The Alliance and partners have used this tool to measure flood resilience in communities and to empirically validate the results and provide objective evidence of how flood resilience can be built and why. The tool has been piloted in over 100 communities around the world in Indonesia, East Timor, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Haiti, Mexico, the US and Peru in both urban and rural communities. By generating evidence using a robust and replicable tool we aim to influence investments in flood resilience so that ex ante action becomes the norm rather than the exception.

    Practical Action will be leading on the knowledge component of the new phase and we are excited to be the knowledge catalyst for the Alliance in Phase 2. We are committed to the use of evidence to influence policy and practice, combining both the human stories of flood resilience with supporting empirical evidence that can persuade decision makers of what works.

    The Flood Resilience Portal launched under phase 1 will continue to serve as a source of practical knowledge on how to build flood resilience, with lessons and solutions from all of the partners in the Alliance and beyond. The development of two additional locally-focused Portals – for Nepal and for Latin America – is helping to ensure that this knowledge is tailored to local communities and practitioners.

    The successes and failures encountered in the first phase have generated a wealth of lessons at local, national and global scales. These lessons have informed the development of this second phase, in which we aim to scale up our work building community resilience to floods, along with an expanded Alliance of partners. Practical Action greatly appreciates this long-term and flexible funding commitment, which allows us to focus on effective problem analysis and test out innovative solutions through robust community action, as well as generate and capture evidence of what works to influence at policy and practice at national and international levels.

    The new Alliance includes partners from the first phase; the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Zurich Insurance company and has been expanded to include Concern, MercyCorps, Plan International, the London School of Economics, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-International (ISET) and ETH Zurich University. This enlarged Alliance brings more diverse skills and a shift in ambition to deliver flood resilience to communities at global scale.

    Practical Action is developing exit strategies with communities for the current programme work and ensuring that lessons are learned and knowledge is captured before the local projects come to a close. Looking ahead, Practical Action is extremely proud to be part of this Alliance and looks forward to five more years of innovative work, delivering resilience to flood prone communities around the world. Stay tuned for more.

     

    For more information: Chris Anderson Global Flood Alliance Programme Manager

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  • Loss and Damage at COP23

    November 30th, 2017
    Taking the Loss and Damage debate beyond the contentious issue of compensation to identify the mechanisms needed to address the losses and damages occurring as a consequence of climate change, especially for the 
    poorest and most vulnerable.

    The 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) was held under the presidency of Fiji. This is the first time a highly disaster-vulnerable country has been the president of a COP, and hence disaster and climate resilience featured heavily on the agenda. In particular the Loss and Damage debate on the limits to adaptation and measures to overcome these limitations received a lot of attention. Loss and Damage remains a political concept, developed during the UNFCCC negotiations, but with its technical roots in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. To explore the challenge and the limits to tackling Loss and Damage in poor and vulnerable communities Practical Action with our partner the International Institute for Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA) presented at a number of events to highlight the challenge.

    Colin McQuistan presenting on the role of technology such as Early Warning Systems to reduce the impact of Losses and Damages

    At one event in the Fiji Pavilion, Practical Action’s discussed the role of technology to tackling intolerable risk that remains even after standard disaster risk reduction and mitigation measures have been adopted. In spite of resilience building efforts, losses and damages still occur signalling the ‘beyond adaptation’ challenge.

    Overview showing the three pillars of climate action and their relationship to the key global agreements and loss and damage.

    Practical Action presented findings from a case study, exploring the role of technology in climate risk management to the threat of flooding in the interconnected river systems of the South Asian region.  The study showed that only a limited set of the available technologies are accessed and used for flood early warning in the region. Insufficient capacity and funding leads to the implementation of the bare minimum, with early warning system implemented in a largely copycat way. However as climate change progresses, the demands on these early warning systems will increase, however if no action is taken, the technology available for these people remains the same. This means their adaptation deficit will increase. We have developed a policy framework (see above) for the Climate, Disaster and Sustainable Development discourse to inform rethinking Access, Use and Innovation from the perspective of the poor so that technology can be used to reduce loss and damage and contribute to rebalancing climate justice.

    This has been mirrored in a recent blog by IIASA calling for a process that involves the active participation of those in politics, public administration, civil society, private sector and research to find new solutions to tackle increasing levels of climate risk for those that need it most. Losses and damages as a result of climate change are not going away and without urgent action they are only going to get worse.

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  • Is the snail accelerating?

    November 13th, 2017

    With the first week of the conference done and dusted, where are we in negotiations?

    In September I wrote about the Government of Fiji’s ambition[1] for the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the Paris Agreement to tackle climate change. The first week of the conference is now over and the high level segment is about to begin. So are we any closer to a comprehensive deal to tackle climate change? A deal that needs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions fast enough to avoid catastrophic social systems failure, that puts in place mechanisms to help people in developing countries adapt to the challenge of climate change and for those where climate action is already too late, put in place a mechanism that responds to their Losses and Damages. A mechanism that helps them pick up the pieces and find a new life despite climate change exacerbated floods washing away their homes, sea level rise making their homes unlivable and fields unproductive or the multitude other ways that climate change impacts are already exceeding the capacity of the poorest to adapt.

    The negotiations are complex from a technical as well as a political perspective. Countries ultimately want to see an equitable deal that delivers on keeping climate change to within 1.5oC. A deal that recognises the different needs and builds from the contributions that each country can make.

    Based on progress during the first week the following three areas must not be forgotten by political leaders as they travel to attend next week, tasked on behalf of all of us to finalise and approve what need to be ambitious conference outcomes.

    First, get serious on mitigation, keep coal in the ground and shift from oil and gas to renewable sources as rapidly as possible!

    Location of coal power plants in the EU in 2016, circle diameter indicates capacity, country colours depict coal use per capita (darker shading indicates higher coal use per capita)

    Second, mainstream climate change in all development, ensure mitigation action doesn’t undermine progress on adaptation and vice versa!

    We know that to end poverty, we must reverse climate change as quickly as possible.  Without doing so, we risk pushing more than 100 million people back into poverty by 2030 from the impacts of climate change alone[2].

    Thirdly, pre 2020 ambition, the two year period before the Paris Agreement comes into force should be a race to climate excellence, not to be climate laggards!

    Prior to the COP starting the U.N Environment Programme released a sobering report[3] detailing the gap between what countries pledged in their initial Paris Agreement commitments — their nationally determined contributions — and what they will need to do in order to keep global warming below the ideal of 1.5oC. Unfortunately for future generations current commitments cover only approximately one third of the emissions reductions needed to be on a pathway of staying well below 2°C. This isn’t a surprise to delegates at the COP, what is alarming is the lack of progress on ramping up this ambition, particularly leadership by the developed world, leading by example on mitigation, and providing the technical and financial support needed to deliver on Adaptation and Loss and Damage to ensure that we do stay on the track agreed in Paris.

    [1] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/fijis-vision-for-cop23/

    [2] http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2015/11/08/rapid-climate-informed-development-needed-to-keep-climate-change-from-pushing-more-than-100-million-people-into-poverty-by-2030

    [3] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/22070/EGR_2017.pdf

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  • Why the snail’s pace on tackling Loss and Damage?

    Hochstadenring 45, 53119 Bonn, Germany, Bonn
    November 7th, 2017

    We may all be sailing on the same ocean, living together in the same canoe, but it’s clear not everyone has their hands on the rudder.

    OR

    Can the five year work plan of the Warsaw International Mechanism deliver for Loss and Damage and Sustainable Development?

    This week representatives from around the world gather in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known informally as COP23. The president of this year’s summit is Fiji a small island developing state, one of the types of countries most affected by a lack of progress to tackle climate change. It’s worth remembering that this is the 23rd COP, which means that we have been talking about the issue of climate change for 23 years, in fact since the first gathering took place in Berlin in 1995. It was only at the 19th COP in Warsaw that the negotiators finally took the issue of Loss and Damage seriously recognising as a consequence of Typhoon Haiyan that struck the Philippines. This resulted in the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) and an Executive Committee being established.

    This year the consequence of lack of action tackling climate change has been well reported. Massive hurricanes in the Atlantic, leading to devastation in the US and Caribbean have been headline news. The economic damage in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida alone has been estimated at $300Bn. Less well reported are the communities on other Caribbean Islands trying to survive post devastation. Or the 41 million people in South Asia, struggling to rebuild their homes washed away by unprecedented flooding. Or the 38 million farmers across sub-Saharan Africa grappling with food shortages following two consecutive years of drought. These are all testament to the lack of progress on climate change and why Loss and Damage continues to struggle for the recognition it deserves.

    Today at the COP23, Practical Action, along with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) hosted an event at which speakers from Care International, The International Institute of Applied Systems and Analysis (IIASA), the Climate and Development lab of Browns University and Climate Analytics came together to discuss why this is the case. To shed a much needed light on the issue of Loss and Damage.

    What are the problems that we are struggling with? It is clear that climate change is already having an impact on our ability to adapt and that this is felt most by the poorest and those with the least capacity to respond.

    Three simple measures that could nurture some progress on Loss and damage are as follows;

    1. Take the issue of Loss and Damage seriously. It is clear after only two days at the negotiations that countries, especially in the global south, are getting frustrated with the lack of progress on Loss and Damage. This has been escalated by the recent devastation around the world, but also the failure of the Warsaw International Mechanism to deliver realistic progress.
    2. Finance is desperately needed. Currently the Executive Committee of the WIM has no budget, not even for pilot studies. As a result progress is impossible. Even the Technology Executive Committee has a budget and an implementing arm the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Why isn’t the WIM equally empowered to drive their own work plan?
    3. Evidence and Knowledge of irreversible impacts are in short supply. Many developed country negotiators are still in denial about climate change. Therefore we need to capture the evidence of the irreversible impacts of climate change to be better able to articulate the consequences of inaction. Action not taken today means bigger impacts tomorrow. To try and provide more evidence Practical Action alongside several UK NGO’s who are members of the UK Bond Interagency Resilience Learning Group[2] will explore the actual costs of loss and damage – especially in off grid, non-monetised communities, often missing from global hazard datasets. However, we not only need to capture this evidence of climate impact we also need to better communicate this to policy makers and the general public to galvanise action.

    Finally what about Technology Justice? Everyone at COP23 is aware of the potential role that technology can play in catalysing climate action, I will write more about this potential in a blog later this week. For more information on our partners at the side event please check;

    http://www.icccad.net/icccad-at-cop23/

    http://www.iiasa.ac.at/web/home/about/events/171106-COP23.html

    http://careclimatechange.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/CARE_COP23_A6Final-2.pdf 

    http://climateanalytics.org/events/2017/our-events-at-cop23-in-bonn.html

    http://www.climatedevlab.brown.edu/home/watch-out-for-browns-cdl-at-cop23-in-bonn

    [2] https://my.bond.org.uk/group/resilience-learning-group

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  • International Day for Disaster Reduction #IDDR2017

    October 13th, 2017

    International Day for Disaster Reduction (IDDR) held every 13th October, celebrates how people and communities around the world are reducing their exposure to disasters.

    Read more about International Day for Disaster Reduction and our work here: https://practicalaction.org/drr-2017

    “The link between climate change and the devastation we are witnessing is clear, and there is a collective responsibility of the international community to stop this suicidal development”

    Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General on recent visit to the Caribbean.

    In 2017 IDDR once again focuses on the seven targets of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction – a 15 year global agreement that aims to curb deaths and economic losses from natural and man-made hazards – which was signed by global governments in March 2015. This year’s focus is on Target B: reducing the number of affected people by disasters by 2030.

    This is no easy target. Disaster risk is outpacing development and is being made worse by climate change. This year the world has been hit by a catalogue of unprecedented natural hazards. 2017 started with catastrophic flooding in Latin America, followed by exceptional monsoon rains in South Asia, then a summer of massive wildfires in Europe, preceded the Atlantic Hurricane season that has seen a procession of devastating Hurricanes batter the Caribbean and US, as the year comes to an end wildfires consume California and threaten the regions wine industry, and the pacific typhoon season is about to begin.

    Four of the natural hazard events which became human disasters in 2017 clockwise; Hurricane Irma, Colombia mudslides, US wildfires and South Asian floods

    The world needs to adapt to the new normal of increasingly extreme and frequent weather events. This is at a time when economic opportunity appears to override common sense with greater numbers of people moving to and occupying disaster prone, high risk locations in the pursuit of economic opportunity. This trend particularly among the poorest is exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and making the next natural hazard a potential catastrophic disaster. We need to start to reverse these trends, this means tackling poverty and climate change and making sure we do this collectively for the benefit of the planet and future generations.

    With increasing integration of global markets and cheaper, faster and simpler communication systems, regional cooperation should not be difficult. Unfortunately regional cooperation isn’t a new idea, but is one that is often difficult to put into practice. The disparity in size and wealth between countries and competing national interests, makes it hard to find common ground. Overcoming outdated entrenched views is the greatest barrier to building trust, particularly in regards to protection and sustainable management of shared transboundary resources and global commons.

    Practical Action has long recognised that exposure to natural hazards threatens development gains and can be a key driver of poverty[1]. Therefore for regional economic development to deliver benefits of poverty alleviation, risk reduction must be central. This requires coordinated planning and management across political boundaries.

    Regional cooperation is essential when mega disasters take place. When large scale disasters occur, for example the Fukushima manmade disaster or the earthquake in Nepal the host government alone, often lacks the capacity to respond. In these circumstances regional actors can come to their assistance, with shorter transport times, they will also have language, cultural; and technological tie-in’s that can assist in disaster relief and response. But assistance is not only valid during the relief and recovery phase but is also critical for building back better, regional cooperation must not be restricted to disaster moments alone. Regional cooperation during normal times can pay dividends before the next disaster occurs. Pre-emptive exploration of joined up management mechanisms for shared transboundary resources can establish the regional cooperation channels necessary when things go wrong. For example sharing data on rainfall and water levels across a basin will benefit upstream and downstream communities, regardless of which country they live in. Communication channels to share data can reinforce preparedness as flood risk increases. And trust between upstream and downstream communities is vital if these flood early warning messages are to be believed and acted upon.

    Technology is an important enabler when responding to natural hazards and provides the means for a coordinated response. Technology can support regional thinking, planning and management to minimize current and future impacts by protecting people, properties and ecosystems across the multiple scales necessary. Technology is a powerful magnifier of human intent, allowing us to do things in ways and at scales previously not imagined. However, access to technology and its benefits are not shared fairly. All too often, the poor and the most vulnerable are overlooked as a stakeholder in the development, production and diffusion of technology or have hardly any influence[2].

    Cross Border cooperation saves lives, read more about our exploratory work in Nepal and India [3]

    What are the challenges for regional cooperation, when it sounds like such a good idea? As the growing climate change movement highlights, there is a need to enhance multi-sectoral coordination between governments, and enhance partnerships with communities, civil society and the private sector. This should be guided not only by the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but also with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement. This requires the establishment of regional coordination mechanisms of which regional disaster management centres would be an integral part. These regional disaster management centres must be more than just communication and data sharing channels, they require a shared regional vision and the political support of the member states to put into practice their broader risk reduction mandate.

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

     

    [1] https://policy.practicalaction.org/resources/publications/item/from-risk-to-resilience-a-systems-approach-to-building-long-term-adaptive-wellbeing-for-the-most-vul

    [2] Practical Action launched a Technology Justice call for action https://policy.practicalaction.org/acalltoaction

    [3] https://practicalaction.org/blog/programmes/climate_change/coping-disasters-beyond-the-border-nepal-india-cross-border-flood-early-warning-system/

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  • Fiji’s Vision for COP23

    September 29th, 2017

    In just over one months’ time the world will focus on the 23rd session of the Conference of Parties (COP23) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The global gathering at which progress on combatting climate change will be debated, progress reviewed and hopefully ambitious plans to tackle the challenge will be agreed, supported with the necessary finance and support to put this ambition into practice.

    This year Fiji holds the presidency for the COP meeting and hence there are hopes that the emphasis of this year’s COP will be on Small Island developing states and the unique climate challenges they face. From the irreversible impacts of sea level rise, through to the recent hurricane induced destruction in the Caribbean, small island developing states are among the most vulnerable to the challenge of climate change and the climatic variability that this heralds.

    Fiji’s vision for COP23 is:

    • To advance the work of the COP negotiations and preserve the multilateral consensus for decisive action to address the underlying causes of climate change, respecting climate science.
    • To uphold and advance the Paris Agreement, ensure progress on the implementation guidelines and undertake consultations to design the process for the Facilitative Dialogue in 2018.
    • To build greater resilience for all vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels; to enable access to climate adaptation finance, renewable energy, clean water and affordable climate risk and disaster insurance; and to promote sustainable agriculture.
    • To forge a grand coalition to accelerate climate action before 2020 and beyond between civil society, the scientific community, the private sector and all levels of government, including cities and regions. I repeat: We are all vulnerable and we all need to act.
    • To harness innovation, enterprise and investment to fast track the development and deployment of climate solutions that will build future economies with net zero greenhouse gas emissions, in an effort to limit the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

    Fiji aims to infuse the COP with a spirit of inclusiveness, friendliness and solidarity. It aims not for finger pointing nor laying blame but about listening, learning from each other, sharing stories, skills and experiences. By focusing on the benefits of collective action Fiji believes lies our best hope to move the global climate agenda forward. Well, fingers crossed!

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  • Resilience in the face of increasing risk and uncertainty

    September 14th, 2017

    Practical Action’s strategic plan 2017-2020 states “Our vision is for a world where all people have access to the technologies that enable them to meet their basic needs and reach their potential, in a way that safeguards the planet today, and for future generations”. But with development gains being eroded by natural hazards, I sometimes wonder if we are fighting a losing battle?

    Volunteers rescuing people in Bardiya, Nepal Photo: Nepal Flood Resilience Project

    According to the Economist, there are now 400 extreme weather events every year, four times as many as in 1970[1]. A trend demonstrated vividly by the extensive flooding in South Asia and the impacts of the current North Atlantic hurricane season with the devastation caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Although Practical Action does not work in developed countries, the fact that cities in the United States, cities with planning agencies, building regulations and investment in mitigation, have been devastated by natural hazards demonstrates the increase in climate risk for communities in the developing world, that lack similar government capacity and struggle with limited budgets.

    In a world of increasing risk, resilience is a useful concept to explore the capacities, assets and behaviours that people, their communities and the societies in which they belong, need to be resilient to shocks and stresses. But resilience itself as an outcome of development, may be foolhardy to pursue.

    Practical Action recognises that technology is a key enabler of human development, that technological innovation has the power to enable a better world. Technology can advance the adaptive capacity of communities to cope with risk. For example a community protected by an Early Warning System have access to the information to allow them to act in advance of a flood event. As more EWS messages are received and successful responses are triggered, the community starts to learn what behaviour keeps them safe and the actions needed to limit the destruction of the flood event. Access to knowledge and information and their increased safety, nurtures experiential learning, they start to learn how to live with the flood.

    In a world in which there is no clear endpoint for development, in which resilience becomes ever more distant, enabling communities to experiment, to learn and adapt their lives and livelihoods will be vital if they are to survive and flourish. Resilience as an outcome is dangerous, it suggests an end state of resilience, whereas resilience is more dynamic. Resilience must consider the role of culture and human agency, and that the development aims of all people, communities and countries need not necessarily align to the same outcome. What builds the resilience of a farmer with a tractor may not be the same as what would build the resilience of a farmer dependent on livestock for motive power. Different vulnerabilities, different contexts, stress the need for different resilience building processes. We must stop focussing on the outcome of resilience and instead concentrate on learning from what we are doing, be brave enough to adapt when things start to diverge from the expected, and most importantly we mustn’t forget that it’s ok to learn from failure.

    [1] https://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2017/08/daily-chart-19

    Find out more…

    See more of our work on the Flood Resilience Portal. This portal provides practitioners who live and work in flood-affected communities with easy access to the resources they need to build resilience to floods. This is part of the ongoing global Zurich Flood Resilience Programme.

    Or learn about the difference made by Practical Action resilience programmes during the 2017 flash floods and landslides in Nepal and what this revealed about disaster preparedness.

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  • Ecosystems underpin Sustainable Development

    June 30th, 2017

    There is incredible generosity in the potentialities of Nature. We only have to discover how to utilize them. E. F. Schumacher

    Practical Action have just attended the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA) a global platform of practitioners at which Practical Action country staff can share lessons learned and knowledge from our projects while also networking, sharing and exchanging ideas with practitioners working around the world. This year staff from Nepal, Bangladesh and Peru[i] were able to attend the conference, joined by two staff from the UK.

    This year the CBA took place in Kampala, Uganda. The conference lasted for three days and was attended by more than 300 participants from over fifty countries. The theme of this year’s conference was Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), a theme that would ring true to our founder Dr Fritz Schumacher who spent his life highlighting the fundamental interdependency between human existence and a healthy planet.

    The conference brings together an incredibly vibrant community of practitioners, and in its 11th year builds on over a decade of shared learning. One piece of common understanding is that climate change is happening now and is impacting the poorest the most. Those whose daily lives balance precariously on the frontlines of numerous threats many of which are exacerbated by climate change. Therefore a key driver for CBA practitioners is that we have to act quickly to reduce this threat.

    One cost effective way we can do this is to utilise the potential of nature and this is the basis of EBA. EBA is the conservation, sustainable management and restoration of natural ecosystems in a way that helps people adapt to climate change, coupled with people’s wise management of these natural components to ensure their preservation, to support the wellbeing of current and future generations. The key element is that ecosystems enhance the adaptation capacity of communities and community action protects the ecosystem services upon which they depend.

    Healthy ecosystems underpin people’s wellbeing and can help them adapt to climate change in four fundamental ways;

    The rapidity of climate change relative to the speed at which natural adaptation, otherwise known as evolution, takes place is challenging existing capacity to adapt. The exposure of people, their communities and societies to climates not experienced during their lifetime, or reflecting the period over which their complex wellbeing strategies have developed is placing new challenges on natural and human systems to adapt. Not only with the pace of adaptation required, but also in a way that can anticipate the uncertainty that the future will undoubtedly bring.

    CBA combined with EBA offers huge potential to reduce people’s vulnerability to a range of climate change impacts and provide significant co-benefits for biodiversity and people, especially those most vulnerable to climate change. We need to overcome any existing conflict between the two approaches, and then scale up from the tens of thousands to the tens of millions as rapidly as possible.

    [i] Unfortunately our Peru colleague was unable to join us although her paper was presented by Chris Henderson in her session on day two.

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  • Flood Resilience in Practice the potential for gaming

    June 27th, 2017

    In June 2017 at the 11th international conference on Community Based Adaptation (CBA11) Practical Action and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program collaborated to present a session on Community Based Adaptation exploring with practitioners the linkage between flood risk and heathy ecosystems, using a game. This game builds on Practical Action’s extensive experience on flood risk management, early warning systems and participatory flood resilience building, combined with WWF’s expertise on ecosystem and nature based approaches. The session was well aligned with the conferences objective to harness natural resources and ecosystems for adaptation, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable those least responsible for the global challenge of climate change.

    To introduce the session Anita Van Breda from WWF, introduced the Flood Green Guide. A guide developed in partnership with USAID Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) to support using natural and nature-based methods for flood risk management.

    We had a total of 59 people plus rapporteurs and facilitators at our session. This group was very diverse so to ensure each game group was made up of a mix of experienced and less experienced practitioners we undertook a few ice breaker activities. The final activity asked them to line up from least to most experience in regards to climate change adaptation based on the number of years they have been working in the field, they then numbered off from 1 to 5 to create five groups made up of experienced and less experienced members.

    The aim of the game is of course to win by gaining the highest score. To achieve a high score the group need to reduce losses from flood events and manage the river basin for the triple objectives of social, environmental and economic wellbeing. However, as well as having fun, and 98% of the participants reported that they had fun, we are also trying to impart some key lessons. By playing the game participants learn how to integrate social, environmental and economic considerations into disaster recovery, reconstruction, and risk reduction programs, specifically;

    • How natural capital and ecosystem services combined with more traditional approaches can build resilience to floods.
    • How to make the difficult trade off decisions between different mitigation options, hard infrastructure versus soft ecosystem based approaches and the implausibility of a one size fits all approach
    • How to build the soft capacities and skills needed by stakeholders to enable them to do this.
    • Highlight the diversity of actors and the challenge of bringing these actors together as a single river basin management institution, the idea of the river basin commission.

    Each group of 9 to 10 people was asked to form a river basin commission and to decide among the groups the role they would play. Ideally the group should be made up of a mix of government, private sector and communities, with representation across these broad groups including upstream, urban and downstream communities, national and local government, etc. The groups then elected a chairperson and a treasurer. The commission were then asked to make plans and implement these in rounds based on a map detailing a hypothetical river basin. As background they are informed that the river basin is highly susceptible to floods due to maritime location, mountainous watershed and high precipitation levels.

    The game is played in rounds representing a year, which includes the commission planning their annual activities based on their available budget, implementation of the plan, the arrival of the annual flood and responding to the consequences of the flood event.

    https://youtu.be/mypkJo-nk3o

    We were only able to play two rounds but provided enough time for a question and answer session at the end. One participant raised a very valid question on the validity of game playing to influence policy and practice. Game playing can provide multiple benefits in the challenging international development process. Firstly by playing a game such as this you can bring together diverse stakeholders who often do not work together. Role playing different roles allows local stakeholders to view problems from an alternative perspective. Most importantly allows different stakeholders to explore critical issues in a natural environment, this not only promotes understanding of different perspectives but can also aid in defusing future conflict.

    Following good development practices we asked all participants to fill in an evaluation form. Overall they enjoyed playing the game and found the interactive learning approach refreshing. They provided some excellent feedback on how to improve the game, such as thinking about upstream downstream linkages more, make the scoring system simpler, and provide fewer options for flood actions. Many participants commented on the economic centric decision making, although they recognised that this is a common problem. One key learning from the CBA conference is that if we continue with economic decision making then the social and environmental costs will continue to be overlooked. All participants enjoyed the participatory nature of the game, the fact that they were involved and were able to engage with their colleagues in developing their annual plan. This facilitated sharing of knowledge and experience and contribute to collaborative learning.

    Keep following the Practical Action colleagues at the conference and come back for a daily update.

    @Chris_P_Hen, @RiganAliKhan, @Sunilnpl, @gehedragurung and @ColinMcQuistan

    For more on the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Environment and Disaster Management (EDM) program: http://envirodm.org/

    The 11th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA11) https://www.iied.org/11th-international-conference-community-based-adaptation-cba11

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